September 23, 2013

It’s a Festival, Jim, But Not as You Know It

This post is for people in the children’s book industry who’ve never been to a sci-fi/fantasy convention and for regular attendees of those conventions. I think it might be of interest to both, centred as it is around the strangeness and peculiar charm, not of the attendees, but the way in which cons are organized.

And if you’ve never been to one of these conventions, you should give one a try. They’re not as off-the-wall as people think, as I’ve written about in the past, and more often than not, they’re a lot of fun. In some ways, they have a lot in common with festivals celebrating children’s and YA books. Humour, passion, intelligence, progressive thought and stimulating discussion are all there in abundance. In terms of understanding the digital revolution, they can be an excellent place to find out what’s on the horizon and who’s doing what about it.

But there are some very striking differences between the way the sci-fi/fantasy people run an event, compared to that run by the children’s/YA crowd (or anyone else, in fact).

I read a blog post by Cheryl Morgan yesterday, about the problems of running one of these conventions – in her case, Worldcon, one of the biggest – and was surprised at the amount of aggravation and stress that seemed to be involved.LONCON3 (Worldcon) Logo I’ve come across vague controversies about Worldcon online, but have yet to hear anything specific – and to be honest, I’m not that interested. I’ve been to one Worldcon, years ago in Glasgow, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll be going to the one in London next year (also known as LonCon 3 – I don’t know why there are two names), and I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m not a regular visitor to conventions, but I have been to quite a few. And though I’ve enjoyed all of them, I can understand how easily disputes might arise over the details of how they’re run.

I’ve been published for ten years as an author and worked for an additional ten years on top of that as an illustrator. Since my first book was published, I’ve probably done a couple of thousand individual events in hundreds of different venues, festivals, conferences, seminars and conventions in a few different countries.

So when I tell you that sci-fi cons do things a little differently to every other type of festival or conference, I’m speaking from experience. Actually, ‘sci-fi’ or ‘fantasy’ are misleading terms where these cons are concerned, as the topics that are covered can often include genres from fantasy through to historical fiction, crime to horror – a swathe of stories all wrapped up in the umbrella term ‘Genre’.

I’m not sure what ‘non-Genre’ is, though it tends to be what other people call ‘literary’ writing. Although ‘literary’ writing to me, just means a story told as well as it could be, which is not necessarily the type that wins the Booker Prize . . . anyway, let’s not get started on that.

I posted a few weeks back about the whole thing of how the creators of books are sometimes asked to do events purely for the publicity, and why it was so wrong. But then I give you . . . the science fiction or fantasy convention.

In most cases, these are set up by volunteers, passionate fans who often endure a seat-of-their-pants process as far as funding is concerned, where the audience pays a membership of the con, instead of buying tickets for talks. It’s this approach of treating the attendees as members rather than a paying audience where the big difference lies between conventions and other book festivals. Pocket PlannerThey also treat guests as a kind of higher rank of member – which includes not paying them a fee or expenses.

I like going to cons, but it can be a bit hard to justify. To give you an idea, here’s the kind of conversation I’d have with my wife, Maedhbh – who knows a thing or two about running events. She organizes the Children’s Book Festival for Meath every year, this year featuring nearly ninety separate events in libraries across the county.

Now, let me preface this by saying two things:

Firstly, for anyone on the con circuit who may not know it, most full-time children’s authors (and many part-time ones) do a lot of travelling around the country to promote our books, doing sessions – sessions that we are paid for. We’re expected to be able to stand up, from cold, in front of a room full of kids (or indeed, adults) and speak for anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour or more, and be entertaining, educational, knowledgeable, insightful and, eh . . . entertaining.

Secondly, Maedhbh is not what you’d call a die-hard sci-fi or fantasy fan.

So . . .

O: ‘I have to leave you on your own with the kids this weekend. I have to go to a sci-fi convention.’

M: ‘Is this for work?’

O: ‘Oh, yes. Definitely.’

M: ‘Are you getting paid for it?’

O: ‘No.’

M: ‘Are they paying any travel expenses? Covering parking fees? Are they buying you lunch?’

O: ‘Eh, no.’

M: ‘And you’ll be gone for the whole weekend? You must be getting loads of publicity out of it. Will there be a lot of media coverage?’

O: ‘No, probably none. Well, somebody’ll blog about it, I’m sure. There’ll be some influential bloggers there, I’d say.’

M: ‘Is there a big audience at this thing?’

O: ‘Maybe a hundred at the whole thing, although there’ll be more than one stream of panels, so probably less than fifty at each panel. Maybe less, ‘cos some people will just hang out in the bar of the hotel. Or just talk outside in the corridor.’

M: ‘And you’re not getting paid for this? How many panels are you doing?’

O: ‘Probably two or three each day. I might try and get in on an extra one if it’s interesting.’

M: ‘And which of your books do they want you to talk about?’

O: ‘Actually, we’re not really asked much about our books. Mostly, we talk about Genre-related topics set by the organizers.’

M: ‘You’re doing three panels a day, but you’re not talking about your books? Will any of these people have met you before? Do they know your work?’

O: ‘I’m not sure. It’ll probably be most of the same people as last year, so they’ll know who I am.’

M: ‘Are these hardcore fans of yours?’

O: ‘No, they’re just people who read this kind of stuff. We have really interesting conversations.’

M: ‘Really interesting conversations? Excellent. Will you be selling your books?’

O: ‘I don’t know, they don’t always have a book stall.’

M: ‘So let me be clear about this. You want to leave me on my own with the kids for the weekend, so you can go and do some events where you don’t get paid, you don’t get expenses, you don’t get to talk directly about your books, you get almost no publicity or media attention, you’re speaking several times a day, but to the same audience – a small audience – and one full of people who’ve heard you speak before and have probably already decided if they’re going to try your books or not. But you get to have really interesting conversations. Have I got that right?’

O: ‘Eh . . . yeah.’

M: ‘And this is work?’

O: ‘Eh . . .’

M: ‘Unfortunately, I’ve got a work commitment on this weekend. I have to go to the pub to watch the Meath match on Saturday. Then we’re going back the next day to talk it over again. So if you want to go to this convention thing, you’ll need to find someone who can take the kids for the weekend.’

Which is why I don’t go to more conventions.

But this is not really a gripe about not getting paid to be a guest at conventions. I’ve had that rant already. Nor do I want to try and get at any one person who runs festivals. I’ve met Cheryl Morgan, and I don’t know her well, but when I hear of her and others like her – the ones who do all the work – taking a lot of grief over what someone did or didn’t like about a con, I think of our 13-year-old and his football.

He plays GAA and soccer, and the days and times of training are always changing and we hear about upcoming matches at very short notice. It’s a pain in the ass. But we can’t really complain too much about it, because these teams are run by dads who are doing it for free, for the love of it. They’re the ones doing the time and putting in all the effort, so it would be churlish to criticize things when we’re inconvenienced sometimes. It’s easy to stand back and make comments when someone else is doing all the work.

But it’s the membership versus audience tickets thing that I think really needs looking at – and most conventions are run along these lines. Conventions are effectively festivals. They are run to bring people together to celebrate a certain type of book, comic, film etc. But there seems to be a determination to run them as if they’re a sports club. There’s a real amateur ethic – where it’s frowned upon by some to have paid staff working on a convention. In many cases, there is minimal sponsorship. I find this bizarre, particularly with the huge amount of work needed for bigger conventions, especially given the increasingly professional approach to running other kinds of book festivals.

And once you reach a certain scale, you’re expected to be professional whether you’re getting paid or not. Once you’re charging a hundred quid a head membership and you’re taking people’s credit card details, you need to be well organized, contactable, responsible to your audience. If I’m handing over my credit card details to you, there’s only so much slack I can cut you because you’re a volunteer. But running a professional festival is very hard to do unless someone’s manning an office somewhere with regular hours. Convention organizers have to take this responsibility on themselves, at great cost to them in time and expense. Why shouldn’t they get paid for it?

But where’s the money going to come from? These things are often run on a shoestring and I get a definite impression from con organizers that they’re constantly stressed about balancing the books.

I think that comes back to the ‘sports club’ mentality. Granted, it does make for a very warm, friendly atmosphere. Members are treated as people who are expected to get involved, help spread the word, to show loyalty – to be invested in the process. What this means a lot of the time is that there is a lot of interaction between the organizers and audience members who are already on board, and not enough time and effort put into reaching people outside of the club. You don’t get many new members in every year; you’re preaching to the converted. This approach also means that members who’ve been around a long time have opinions about how it all should be run – and expect to be obeyed – even if they don’t do any of the work. And I know I might seem to be doing just that here, but it’s not the people, it’s the whole system I wonder about.

Guest speakers, to a lesser extent, are treated with the same familiarity. If you’re running a smaller con and you don’t pay a fee or expenses (you may even ask the guests to pay membership), then the guests you have are most likely local authors who are there because they’re into it and they know the crowd, or someone who’s new and eager, but not a known name, or a more serious mid-list author whose publisher has covered their costs (which is becoming less and less likely), or who forks out their own money to visit conventions a lot, which means that your audience may well have seen them a number of times before.

If you don’t have a large enough audience, you can’t attract the big names. If you don’t even have enough mid-list names, you can’t attract the audience – or sponsors – so you don’t get in enough money to cover your costs. If it costs your speakers money to come to these things, when they get paid to attend other festivals, they’re much less likely to come to yours. WexWorlds-Science Gallery-4If you have the same guests every year, even your loyal members get jaded. And when you get right down to it, the success of anything like this is judged on the experience of the audience.

But in ten years of being published as a writer, most of those years spent working at it full-time, I’ve seen the culture of book festivals flourish. There are many more, in Ireland at least, than there have ever been before. Even with arts budgets being slashed, these festivals are professionally run, well promoted, supported by their local communities and they can often attract big audiences, proper sponsorship and big name authors. Some can now boast a dedicated full-time staff and a permanent office. Normally, they’re in league with their local arts office or library, both of whom have the potential to source a venue for free. And if con organizers think that these people are all less passionate or motivated about their work, then they’ve never been to one of these festivals.

There is so much ability and experience among convention organizers, and they have such a passionate audience, it seems strange to me that the process is so stressful that organizers often get burned out after a few years. And yet the model for doing these conventions differently is already being used and used successfully elsewhere. Wexworlds was the first attempt to combine the eclectic quirkiness of a sci-fi con with the energy and fun of a children’s festival and I thought it worked really well, but it was run by an arts office facing budget cuts and only ran for a couple of years. I’d love to see something like that done again.

There’s huge potential in combining the experience of con organizers with the resources of libraries and arts offices, while taking a more professional approach to sponsorship, promotion and audience building. I like conventions, but I’d love to see them run more as a festival, a celebration of the work they centre round, rather than as a club for fans, some of whom clearly don’t appreciate the work the organizers have to put in and whose work sometimes seems as if it’s something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

November 29, 2011

Between the Dark and the Light

I still take on illustration jobs and private commissions, but it’s rare enough that I get the time to do some decent painting, so when a guy I owed a big favour to asked me to do an A3 poster of a role-playing game he’d run with his mates, based in the Star Wars universe, I thought I’d record the process. If you’re into illustration – either doing it or just looking at it – you might find this interesting.

If I was doing a painting to be printed A4, I’d probably work at A3, though it can vary. For best results, it’s always a good idea to start any painting with some decent reference photos and a lot of sketching, but I had to plunge straight in with this one after a minimum of preparatory sketches. Also, one of the problems with working in different styles, is that it takes time to get up to speed when you switch from one style to another. I hadn’t done something like this in a while, so this picture took about four days to do, from the first sketch to the point when I cut it off the board. Someone who works in this kind of style all the time could probably cut that time down substantially.

I always start a picture by doing a thumbnail sketch, drawing very loosely to map out the composition – setting out where all the pieces of the picture have to go, and what size they’ll be. This is a stage that normally won’t be seen by anyone but me, so it’s little more than a scribble, but it’s a vital stage nonetheless, as I don’t want to be moving big elements around once I start fiddling with details. This is a complicated composition, as there are a lot of distinctive characters which all have to feature. What’s even harder, is that the focus can’t be on any one character, as they all represent players, so each one has to be given a decent position. Normally in a picture, you’d have a few key elements that attract the eye, and everything else would be placed around these in secondary positions.

After the thumbnail comes the finished pencil drawing. Now I have to work the details out properly – I’ve been given a lot of pictures to help to describe the characters and the ships, but none that can be used as direct references; they all have to be changed to match the brief for the picture. This stage takes a lot more time – in this case, the best part of a day. I’m not too concerned with shading yet, if I’m going to be using a heavy painting style, as I will here. But I will normally give myself some indication of the direction of light. This picture is going to be absolutely filled with light sources, so there’s no real point worrying about shading at this point. As you’ll see with the next part, I’ll be painting over everything first anyway.

I create the logo in Photoshop and trace it off. I could do it freehand, if I wanted to give myself a real headache, but there’s no need. This is being hung as a painting, however, rather than printed as an illustration, so I will be painting the logo into the picture. If this were an illustration job, I’d place the logo in using Photoshop or Illustrator after I’d scanned in the final picture. The Star Wars font, as I’ve discovered, is a bit of an ugly sucker, and I’m having my doubts about using it for the main title – the bit on the frame looks okay. Also, having that ‘A’ in ‘A Dark Legacy’ (notice the change from the first pencil) throws off the composition, but that was the title of the game, so that ‘A’ has got to go in.

After I’ve done the pencil drawing, I’ll scan it in and email it off to the client to make sure everything’s the way they want it. If there are any changes, I want to do them at this stage – it’s a lot easier to change a pencil drawing rather than a painting. As it turns out, there was one change that came a bit late, but not a major one. If you can see the character with the beak halfway on the right-hand side, his beak needed to be closed, which only came up after I’d done the first wash. That’s the kind of thing that’s much easier to change in pencil than with paint.

After I’ve got the all clear to to start painting, I draw the picture again – onto a heavy painting paper this time – by tracing it using a light-box. If the paper’s very heavy, or your layers of paint hide too much of the linework, you need to use transfer paper or the like to copy down the drawing a piece at a time.

With the drawing done onto the painting paper, I then stretch the paper, by wetting it so that it swells – and often buckles – and then taping the edges down with a gum-paper tape. As the paper dries, it contracts again until it’s perfectly flat and can then be wet with paint without fear that it’s going to buckle or curl again. This is the way I work; other artists will use card so thick that it doesn’t buckle at all, but you can’t trace through that stuff. You have to mark the drawing onto the card using a copy of your drawing and transfer paper. Don’t mind the distortion in the photo that makes the edges look like they’re bending – that’s down to the slight fish-eye effect of the lens of of my camera. It’s just not made for photographing this kind of stuff. Something I’ll have to sort at a later date.

After the paper has dried and flattened out (a hairdryer can speed the process up a bit), I lay down the first few washes of background colour with a large flat brush. I start with a strong green, then gradually add black and blue to the green paint as I go. I’m using acrylic here, which won’t budge too much once it’s dry. Gouache will cover better and give a flatter colour, but it can lift back up when you lay another layer of paint over it. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but I want a solid base here.

The area around the eyes at the top of the picture is the only part that will be painted using a light style (painting with light washes, then gradually getting darker, as if I was using watercolour). For most of this picture, I’ll lay down the dark colours first and then paint lighter colours on top. This is where you really need to have a clear image in your head of what your end result will be, because you have to hide a lot of your drawing under these washes before you bring it out again. If you were inclined to worrying that you were going to cock things up while painting, this is where you’d be getting butterflies in your tummy.

The darker and heavier you go with the paint, the more you lose of your drawing, so either you reinforce your drawing as you go, or you draw it on again afterward. In this case, once I’ve laid down the darkest washes, I go over a lot of the linework with some thinned down black acrylic, to make the drawing more visible again. I also do some of the finer work around the eyes, with the same shades that I use for the washes. It’s at this point I’m starting to curse the slightly weird, square proportions of that Star Wars font. I should have used something else, but I’ve committed, so to hell with it.

Now is the time to start thinking seriously about where the light is coming from for each element of the picture, as this will dictate how I paint the lighter shades of colour, and where I can put down darker shadows. There will be a lot of different colours, but I want to keep some of this blue-green in the shadows of each element wherever possible, to help hold the picture together.

As I said, you need a strong sense of what your picture is going to look like at the end. If I had photos as direct references for all of these elements, this would be a lot easier. Anyone doing a real film poster would have plenty of stills to work from, but it would take ages to set up and shoot all the pictures I’d need – not to mention the expense of models and props – so I’m pretty much doing this all from my head at this stage.

Whenever possible, it’s best to work from the top left corner down – if you’re right-handed – so you’re not reaching across your finished work too often. It’s also the direction your eye takes across the page, because of the way we read, at least in English-speaking and European cultures. I paint in the lighter parts of those eyes, the spaceships at the top, the explosions and the blast from the jet-pack on the Boba Fett lookalike. There’s also a malevolent figure emerging from the flames in the middle there. These elements are now pretty finished, but there’ll be some retouching later as I go back around for another pass when I’ve got more of the picture done. While I’ve got some yellow on my brush, I do a few of the Fett character’s pieces of armour that are the same colour too.

Then I paint the remaining figures on the left side, again, trying to keep a hint of that green in the shadows wherever possible. It unifies what is otherwise quite a scattered composition. The black ‘darksaber’ in the middle of the picture acts as a mast, which helps too. I’ve got to add markings to the blade and a bit of a glow, but basically it’s little more than a flat black area running up through the centre. That character in the flames is now reaching out for the jedi who’s leaping away from him. Notice that the armoured figure beneath them is all brushed steel at the moment; that’ll change on another pass. I think I’ve made him a little too folded up, I should probably have done him further into the foreground, but his light-coloured armour would have overpowered the light from the all the flames and lightsabers.

I had originally intended to have stars in the background, at least behind the ships, but the picture’s so busy already, I decide to leave them out. With so many sources of light, I need as many dark areas as possible for contrast.

Now I finish off the darksaber, add some shadows to the eyes at the top, and go to work on the figures on the right-hand side. The character with the beak now has his beak closed. He is an old, wise character, in contrast to the young swordsman below him (the blue-tinged character between them is a ghost-like mentor for the younger one). The different lighting of these two characters reflects their two roles, but it’s only after I’ve done the younger man’s lightsaber red, that I realize it’s supposed to be blue. This changes not only the sword itself, but also the highlights on the character’s face, hands and clothes. As I’m using a heavy painting style, this isn’t a major problem. If I was painting with watercolour, with loads of translucent layers making up the dark shades, it would be.

I change that red light to blue. I also give the armoured figure in the bottom left corner a green tinge, and paint in some yellow highlights to tie him into the picture around him a bit more. The final figure in the bottom right corner is in an action pose, deflecting a shot from a blaster with his hand, jedi-style. As with the jumping figure on the other side, to show his full body, I have to show him much smaller in comparison to the other figures. This also gives the composition a bit more variation and balance.

All the most enjoyable stuff is done now. This has been a fun job – I haven’t drawn Star Wars stuff since I was a kid. At this point, I’m going back over things, strengthening shadows, defining the odd detail a bit better, doing what I can to pull the whole picture together . . . and anticipating doing that logo. Lettering is always tricky when you’re painting, and this square font is unusual; the weight is even through the curves and yet some of the letters are designed to join up, while others aren’t. Oh, and I’m trying to give it a kind of fiery gold effect, an uneven colour that makes keeping the edges even all the more interesting.

It’s not long before I’m really starting to hate this bloody font.

I finish up by painting a black frame all the way round, its edge broken only by the blue lightsaber on the right. As is the case with any illustration larger than A4 that I do on the drawing board, I can’t scan it myself. So I have to take it to a place in Dublin to be scanned. If this was a job for print, I’d then do a bit of retouching before I send it to the client – I do a bit on this scan anyway, even though the original will have to stand as it is.

Though I work a lot in Photoshop, I haven’t quite switched to doing painting digitally, and part of me will never want to, even though it makes sense for commercial illustration. The software is getting better all the time too, although a lot of digital painting still looks a bit too greasy or plasticky for my tastes. But there’s no getting round the fact that, soon the day will come when work restraints will mean taking the painting onto the screen, switching my pencils, paintbrushes and paper for a stylus and tablet. I do have to admit to being sorely tempted by the prospect of being able to back artwork up as I go, to play with textures and photos, and being able to hit ‘Undo’, when I cock things up. But you can’t feel graphics under your fingertips, or smell the colour as you mix it, or see the textures and sheens of the different types of paint, see the sweep or stipple of the brush in the surface. Do your work onscreen, and you’ll never be able to hold the original in you hands.

Back when I made my living entirely from illustration, there were some jobs I just didn’t care that much about – I did them to pay the bills. That kind of stuff I’d happily do on the computer. But though the phrase might seem trite, with very few exceptions that I’ve seen, digital painting has no soul. And I say that in the full knowledge that I’ve just produced what amounts to fan art of the world’s biggest entertainment franchise (or is that Disney?). I do other stuff too. It’s just that I haven’t spent most of my life learning how to paint (and as you can see, I still have a lot to learn), to see that work in a printout. So, wherever possible, I say: Keep it live. Keep it messy. Keep it real.

September 16, 2011

What’s Happened to Armouron?

I’ve been asked this a few times over the last while – particularly by people who are dealing with the book distributors, and can see that my next two books ‘The Orphan Factory’ and ‘Dead-End Junction’, were scheduled for release this month.

The short answer is ‘I don’t know’. But I’ll tell you what I do know (and what discretion allows):

Unlike my other books, I don’t own the rights to the ‘Armouron’ franchise, so I’m not kept in the loop as much. The whole project started with a television production company that had taken on the film rights for a new toy range being released by Bandai. They approached Random House to handle the publishing side of things – starting with the production of a series of eight books aimed at confident readers; novellas about 25-30,000 words long.

Way back when I was first starting out as an illustrator, I worked on twelve ‘Power Ranger’ books, so I know how this usually works. A big franchise like this is normally led by the television series and the toy range. They’re established first, and then the books come along as merchandising. But at this point, there was no script for the television series (a live-action one, rather than one that was animated), and the toys were already in production.

Instead, it was left to Random to establish the world and the characters of ‘Armouron’, based on a rough set-up originally provided by the woman who had created the toys. So in this case, the books were going to come first, establishing the whole franchise. Random brought me over to London for a brainstorming session with the production people, and I was commissioned to come up with the setting, the characters, and the framework for the stories.

They contracted me to write four books in the series, including the first two. Even though I wasn’t to get creator’s rights (which is why I use ‘O.B. McGann’ on the covers) I was keen to get involved. I went through plenty of these kinds of franchises when I was a kid: ‘Star Wars’, ‘Action Force’, ‘Transformers’ etc. I’m not ashamed to say that I and the people I worked with chucked in every well-tried element we could think of to create the Armouron world. After all, we weren’t trying to be wildly original – although aspects of the toys, and stories, actually are – we were putting together something kids, particularly boys, of a certain age would love.

The first two of my four books, ‘The Armoured Ghost’ and ‘Lying Eyes’, came out last year, and are available in most good bookstores now. Another writer, Richard Dungworth, was to provide the other four. His first two, ‘Caged Griffin’ and ‘Prisoner on Kasteesh’ are also out now. Both of us have now completed all of our stories, but the final four haven’t been released yet, even though the toys are now also out there on the shelves (check out the big launch in Hamley’s in London). Ironically, this seems to have nothing to do with the paralysis that’s gripped the publishing industry over the last couple of years.

I haven’t been told anything about the television series in nearly a year. Last I’d heard, they were at the script stage, but I did produce a fair bit of the source material – based on the rights owner’s initial ideas – and nobody’s been in touch with me about any of it. That said, I’ve had no word that it’s been canned either. Armouron would be a major film production, being a sci-fi series in a futuristic city, with a lot of special effects, so getting the funding for it, and putting it together, will be no small task.

This is probably nobody’s fault. I’ve learned enough about the television and film industries to know that – despite the confidence of the producers in this case – projects like this get pitched all the time. They can be really difficult to get off the ground, and sometimes they can take years to get through the production pipeline. This is not something that’s likely to wind me up – I know how it is. That’s the nature of the film business and publishing works much the same way, albeit on much, much smaller budgets.

But it does mean that the release of my next two books has been postponed – and presumably, Richard’s too. I don’t know for how long. So even though the books came first, and set up the world that features this clever, multi-functional armour, they are now being treated like merchandise for the toy range (which they are, to be fair). While they are part of a franchise, these are solid, action-packed stories with distinctive characters, and are more than good enough to stand up on their own. And the remaining four books are ready to go.

If I hear any more about the release dates, I’ll let you all know.

July 9, 2011

Edda and The Avatar Chronicles

Conor Kostick is a good friend and the author of the excellent ‘Avatar Chronicles’. To celebrate the launch of ‘Edda’, the third book in the series, Conor’s doing a ‘blog tour’ – a series of pieces on different blogs, finishing up on mine. Today, I’m posting a video of the two of us having a chat about ‘Edda’ and some of the ideas Conor has woven into the series.

This was filmed in the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin, where we both teach courses from time to time. It didn’t go quite according to plan . . .

We were both on tight work schedules and had to put this together in a bit of a rush, with the help of Donna Sorenson from the O’Brien Press. The sound’s a little fuzzy, and Conor was unexpectedly joined by his very active two-year old daughter, as his partner had a doctor’s appointment.

Conor and I talk about books and ideas and stuff on a regular basis, but trying to keep our discussion YouTube-friendly  – you know; short, concise and to the point – was something of a challenge. Even when we’re not tired, a tad hassled and being distracted occasionally by a pottering toddler, we are prone to indulging in a bit of mental wandering.

Conor’s writing is always challenging, always thought-provoking and imaginative. But apart from all that brainy nonsense, when you get right down to it, ‘Edda’ is a rollicking good read, full of fights, chases and all the stuff that make up a good thriller. Hope you enjoy the chat, and hope you check out the book!

February 10, 2011

The Phoenix Convention

The run-up to the P-Con VIII – the eighth Phoenix Sci-Fi Convention – is now on. I’ve been going for a number of years and it always throws up some interesting talks and some great craic. Fans of all shapes and sizes will be descending on the Central Hotel in Dublin in March to talk, argue, heckle, laugh, buy strange stuff and consume the odd drink.

These cons tend to be a more informal affair than many book festivals, where creators and fans mix a bit more and the emphasis is (weirdly) not on the authors’ work itself (except for the Guest of Honour talk), but rather the guests’ take on various genre-related subjects that get thrown at them over the course of the weekend. I recommend it to anyone who’s into sci-fi, fantasy, horror, historical fiction, mystery or just out for some quirky conversations and a bit of a laugh.

Here are the details:

Phoenix Convention VIII

Start: 8pm  Friday, 4th March, 2011

End: 6pm Sunday, 6th March, 2011

Venue: The Central Hotel, Exchequer Street, Dublin 2

Website: www.pcon.ie

Guest of Honour:  Award winning author, Ian McDonald

On a related note, my thanks to John Vaughan, film-maker and professional Genre fan, for sending me the complete collected issues of ‘The New Statesmen’ by John Smith and Jim Baikie. It’s a brilliant, twisted cross between political thriller and superhero series, and I wish they’d release it again. I had lamented that the book couldn’t be got for love nor money, and John Vaughan, faster than a speeding bucket, able to leap tall grass in a single bound, volunteered to save the day. John, I know you won’t accept money, and I can’t offer love, but I’m grateful nonetheless.

To anyone who intends to make it to P-Con, it should be a great event. See you there.